JACKSON – Sometimes, a little pressure can work wonders.
Just ask Chris Chambless.
When Chambless took the head coaching job at West Point four years ago, he knew he was stepping into a situation where victories – and championships – were expected.
“That was fine with me, because that’s our goal every year anyway,” Chambless said of the high expectations for West Point High School’s football team, which has won five state titles. “These kids enter this program expecting to win. That’s a nice intangible to have.”
Tonight, Chambless and his Green Wave have a chance to add to the storied history of West Point football when they face off with Wayne County, a team equally versed in winning, in the Class 5A state championship game at 7 p.m.
Tonight’s title tilt, a rematch of West Point’s 17-15 victory in the 2005 4A final, will feature two of the most successful programs of the championship era. The two programs have combined for eight state titles and eight championship game appearances this decade.
The War Eagles (11-3) and Green Wave (13-1) are remarkably similar in style, right down to the swagger both exude when they step onto the field.
“Wayne County doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone,” Chambless said of Wayne County, which last won the 4A crown in 2006. “What they’ve accomplished over the past few years is impressive. Their kids expect to win just like ours, so it will be a great matchup between two teams hungry for a win.”
While confidence and bravado will be in great supply for both sides, Wayne County head coach Marcus Boyles knows that West Point’s athleticism will be tough to deal with.
“I think Moss Point is the closest team we’ve played. When I look at Moss Point, I see West Point in a lot of ways,” said Boyles, whose team earned a 32-28 win over Moss Point to reach the 5A finale. “The difference is that West Point offensively really wants to run the football. They got everyone who can the football and they got (wide receiver Michael) Carr on the outside who can go over the top anytime.”
Carr has been a difference-maker for the Wave offense this year, an added element that has been missing from past championship teams. The Mississippi State-bound wideout has 34 catches for 706 yards and 7 TDs. He also averages 42 yards per kickoff return.
War Eagles’ wings
On the other side, Wayne County leans heavily on senior quarterback DeMarcus Henderson, who has thrown for 1,901 yards and 15 scores. Henderson also brings a steadying presence to the War Eagles’ spread offense, a fact not lost on Chambless.
“He missed some time earlier in the year and they struggled,” Chambless said, “but when he’s in there, they are hard to slow down. They spread you out and try to make plays in space.”
For Chambless, the difference in tonight’s game could be the ability to shine on a big stage, a trait both teams seem to have in spades. West Point hasn’t been seriously challenged during the postseason while Wayne County has topped the 30-point plateau in each of its three playoff wins.
“When you get get to this point in the season, you know you’re in for a war,” Chambless said. “We just have to make sure our kids are grounded and are able to go out there and make the plays necessary to win a championship.”
Brandon Walker/NEMS Daily Journal